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Kenya lifts ban on public rallies

Kenya’s minister of internal security on Friday lifted the ban on public rallies imposed after an eruption of violence over the country’s disputed presidential election.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Kenya’s minister of internal security on Friday lifted the ban on public rallies imposed after an eruption of violence over the country’s disputed presidential election.

Minister George Saitoti said the move came because “security has generally improved.” He urged legislators and others to hold meetings “to promote peace and national reconciliation” and not use rallies as “avenues to incite violence.”

Earlier, former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, a leading negotiator and the chief mediator in Kenya's political crisis, said rival parties appear close to an agreement to share power and halt weeks of postelection bloodshed that has killed more than 1,000 people.

"We are all agreed that a political settlement is needed, a political settlement is necessary, and we are now in the process of discussing the details, working out the terms of the settlement," Annan told reporters.

Earlier, an opposition lawmaker on the negotiating team claimed a power sharing deal had been reached. William Ruto said the two sides still were discussing who would lead the government and what roles each party would play.

But Annan said Ruto "was jumping the gun."

Government negotiator Mutula Kilonzo said they had no choice but to agree.

"We have agreed that the solution is in a political settlement. How, when, where and by whom will be discussed on Monday," Kilonzo said. "We have no choice. We can't allow our people to kill each other because of election results."

'We are making progress'
Sources close to the negotiations had told reporters to prepare for a "major breakthrough," which media including independent KTN television reported. It was unclear if there was a last-minute hitch.

Instead, Annan reported "We are making progress."

He hinted that he was waiting for a decision from the key players — President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga.

Annan met the two men Thursday and said "we gave progress report to the two leaders and appealed to them to support their negotiators and give them instructions to cooperate and to settle."

International and local election observers agree that the vote tally in the Dec. 27 elections was rigged. Even the head of the electoral commission has said publicly that he does not know who won the vote.

The announcement of Kibaki's narrow victory caused riots that degenerated into ethnic clashes. More than 1,000 people have been killed and 300,000 driven from their homes in fighting that has pitted many of the East African country's myriad ethnic groups against one another.

Compromises sought to end bloodshed
On Thursday, Odinga retreated from earlier calls that Kibaki should step down, taking a compromising stance.

"We are saying that we are willing to give and take. Initially our stand was that we won the elections, and Mr. Kibaki lost the elections, he should resign, and we should be sworn in, but we have said that we are not static on that point," Odinga told reporters.

Speaking at a prayer meeting in Nairobi Friday, Kibaki said he was "encouraged" by progress in talks and reiterated "my personal support and that of my entire government to this process."

He added that "those who mastermind or engage in acts of violence will pay for their criminal activities."

On Thursday, the United States threatened to bar Kenyan politicians and businessmen alleged to have played a role in the bloodshed from visiting the United States.

Canadian High Commissioner Ross Hynes said Thursday his country was already barring some people from entering Canada. Britain said it could take similar steps.

Politicians and businessmen are among those accused of financing or orchestrating the violence.

Washington sent letters to 10 politicians and businessmen suspected of supporting or inciting violence, U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger said. But U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the letters were sent to eight people. The discrepancy could not immediately be explained. Both declined to name the targets but Ranneberger said the visa reviews also would apply to the immediate families of those affected.

Mention of deals sparks anger
While a power sharing deal would be expected to help end violence, some opposition supporters insisted they would not back down until Odinga was named president.

"We won't, we can't agree. We want our rights, we will go back to the streets," said Evans Omogi, a driver in the western city of Kisumu, scene of much of the worst violence.

In Mathare, a slum in Nairobi that was the site of repeated clashes, one Odinga supporter called the reported deal a "betrayal."

Odinga is "going to govern but what about the people? What about his supporters?" said Cliff Owino. "That is betrayal. People will be angered."

On Friday, about 5,000 people fled a makeshift camp for those forced from their homes in the western town of Kericho, fearing violence ahead of Saturday's funeral for an opposition lawmaker slain last week. Only about 1,000 people were left in the camp, said Red Cross official Susan Onyango.

Kericho's main street was packed with families hastily piling furniture onto government lorries taking them to areas where their ethnic group was predominant.

The slain legislator was killed in what the opposition described as a political assassination, but what police said was a crime of passion by a traffic policeman who believed his girlfriend was involved with the politician. The killing had sparked attacks on the policeman's ethnic group, the Kisii.